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Worst to first

Carolina completes title run with 3-2 victory

Posted: Saturday August 24, 2002 6:35 PM
Updated: Sunday August 25, 2002 11:43 AM
  Ann Cook, Unni Lehn Carolina's defense kept Washington from getting a game-tying goal. AP

ATLANTA (AP) -- Mia Hamm has lifted the World Cup. She's worn an Olympic gold medal. Still, her remarkable career doesn't feel complete. (From the Newsstand)

Hamm was denied another milestone Saturday when the Carolina Courage beat the Washington Freedom 3-2 in the WUSA championship game. (Notebook)

Hamm scored a brilliant goal in the 64th minute, but it wasn't enough. Danielle Fotopoulos had one goal and set up another for the Courage, who completed their worst-to-first season by winning the Founders Cup.

"We didn't come all this way to lose," Hamm said, fighting back tears. "No one is saying, 'Hurrah, we're second.'"

The Courage, who tied Washington for last place in the league's inaugural season, brought in 11 new players for Year 2. The results were immediate: Carolina won the regular-season title, then won it all with two more victories in the playoffs.

Founders Cup II
Carolina's Birgit Prinz -- The German national team forward worked hard on both sides of the ball for 90 minutes, stealing from defender Jennifer Grubb in the 58th minute to score the game-winner. She also earned an assist on Danielle Fotopoulos' goal five minutes earlier.  
Washington's Jennifer Grubb -- The Freedom captain and last defender held on to the ball a second too long, allowing Prinz to steal her clearance attempt and easily score what turned out to be the game-winning goal.  
Washington's Mia Hamm -- The U.S. national team forward came on at halftime and scored in the 64th minute, taking a long pass on the left wing, cutting back to her right to beat Staci Burt just inside the penalty area and unleashing a right-footed blast past a diving Kristin Luckenbill and just inside the far post. Honorable mention goes to Hege Riise, who broke free into the area to score off a header from Fotopoulos.  
Carolina's Kristin Luckenbill -- The WUSA goalkeeper of the year came up huge in the second half, at no time bigger than her stop in the 67th minute on Bai Jie. After a Washington cross and headers by Steffi Jones and Abby Wambach, the Chinese forward found herself alone seven yards from goal. But Luckenbill came off her line to deflect the shot away and preserve what turned out to be the final score.  

Hege Riise and Birgit Prinz also scored for the Courage.

"Mia Hamm is an awesome player, but we've got Hege, Birgit, a team," Fotopoulos said. "Teams win championships. Individuals don't win championships."

Fotopoulos actually scored twice, deflecting a shot into her own net for Washington's first goal.

"I felt terrible, but for just a couple of seconds," she said. "I told myself, 'Oh, well, it's done. Let's go get a goal for our team."

Fotopoulos did just that in the 53rd, scoring off a rebound to break a 1-1 tie.

Carolina scored again five minutes later for a 3-1 lead, taking advantage of a mistake by Washington captain Jennifer Grubb. When she cleared the ball lazily in front of her own goal, Prinz took it away and scored on a breakaway against helpless Washington goalkeeper Siri Mullinix.

Prinz, a native of Germany, struggled with the 94-degree heat in the first half, but she drove away at the end with a new car as the game's MVP.

"Oh, it was so hot," Prinz said. "In the second half, I felt much better. I think it was all in my head."

Hamm, the leading international scorer in women's soccer history, missed nearly half the season after knee surgery. She returned June 12 with the team mired in sixth place and sparked an amazing turnaround.

The Freedom went 9-1-2 the rest of the way to finish third, then upset Philadelphia in the semifinals last weekend.

Sticking with her role of coming off the bench, Hamm entered the game at the start of the second half, drawing cheers from the announced crowd of 15,321 every time she touched the ball.

The fans went crazy when Hamm brought the Freedom to 3-2. Marked by Stacy Burt, Hamm cut suddenly to her right and unleashed a right-footed shot from about 15 yards that curled into the top corner of the net.

"When I see the opportunity to shoot, I shoot," Hamm said. "I hit it well and it went in. But today, it wasn't enough."

The Freedom poured it on the rest of the game but couldn't get the equalizing goal on a scorching Georgia day.

Carolina goalie Kristin Luckenbill made a great save when Bai Jie got loose in front of the goal in the 67th. Hamm had several chances for another goal, the best coming in the 82nd when a point-blank shot from a bad angle was swatted away by Luckenbill's right hand.

Hamm had one more chance in stoppage time, but three defenders converged on her in the penalty box and knocked the ball away.

The victory was especially satisfying for the Carolina players who endured the dismal first season.

"From the very first day, the conversation was not about last year," coach Marcia McDermott said. "We knew we had good talent and could set lofty goals."

The Courage opened the scoring in the 20th minute on a beautifully executed play.

Burt lofted a long pass toward Fotopoulos, stationed at the top of the penalty box. Fotopoulos redirected the ball with a header to Riise, who broke free in the right side of the box and beat Mullinix with a low shot.

After dominating much of the half, Carolina was stunned in the 31st by the own goal. Grubb lofted a seemingly harmless free kick from 40 yards away, but the ball deflected off the hip of Fotopoulos and slipped by Luckenbill.

It was the first own goal scored against Carolina this season.

Riise had a chance for her second goal of the game in the 34th, blasting a shot that was headed for the top left corner. Mullinix leaped high, however, and batted the ball over the bar.

The crowd, which appeared to be about 12,000, was short of capacity at 16,500-seat Herndon Stadium near downtown Atlanta. Last year, the inaugural WUSA championship game drew 21,078 at Foxboro Stadium.

The turnout was hurt by the absence of the host team. The Atlanta Beat, which made it to the championship game a year ago, lost to Carolina in the semifinals last weekend.


CAR - Riise (Fotopoulos, Burt), 20'
WAS - own goal (Danielle Fotopoulos), 31'
CAR - Fotopoulos (Prinz, James), 53'
CAR - Prinz (unassisted), 58'
WAS - Hamm (Wambach ), 64'

WASHINGTON FREEDOM-Siri Mullinix, Emmy Barr (Tracey Milburn 84'), Carrie Moore, Jennifer Grubb, Skylar Little, Ann Cook (Mia Hamm 46'), Anne Makinen (Jacqui Little 62'), Pu Wei, Steffi Jones, Bai Jie (Monica Gerardo 72'), Abby Wambach.

TOTAL SHOTS: 14 (Pu 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 4 (Hamm 2); FOULS: 13 (Wambach 4); OFFSIDE: 4; CORNER KICKS: 3; SAVES: Mullinix 5; CAUTIONS: Wambach 41; Bai 55; EJECTIONS: None.

CAROLINA COURAGE-Kristin Luckenbill, Staci Burt, Nel Fettig, Erin Baxter, Danielle Slaton, Tiffany Roberts, Brooke O'Hanley (Venus James 46'), Hege Riise, Unni Lehn (Staci Wilson 84'), Danielle Fotopoulos, Birgit Prinz.

TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Riise 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 8 (Riise 3); FOULS: 14 (Roberts 4); OFFSIDE: 0; CORNER KICKS: 6; SAVES: Luckenbill 3; CAUTIONS: Lehn 38'; EJECTIONS: None.

Referee: Ricardo Salazar

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